The hot, simmering months of June and July, coupled with rising rents and business rates, have taken their toll on pie-makers in the East Midlands. For some, it was good news and for others, bad.
One business - The Pie Company, based in Leicester city centre - was forced to close, while another, local company RF Brookes, axed 33 jobs, saying that customers had stopped eating pies and pasties during the heatwave. In July, Coombs Bakery, also based in Leicester, went into administration and closed six of its 17 outlets throughout the county.
But Pukka Pies, based in Syston on the outskirts of Leicester, may have been helped by the misfortunes of others. The heatwave did not mean any lessening of its pie sales - the reverse, in fact. For the first time, the company gained a foothold into a different niche of the supermarket trade - and that, believes Pukka, may be because the supermarkets were not able to get their usual quota of supplies from the smaller manufacturers.
Pukka Pies is now competing alongside the likes of Ginsters on the chilled shelves in supermarkets other than Somerfield and Morrisons, where it has already had a presence for some time. Its chicken, mushroom and steak and onion pies, in new packaging, are now being trialled on the chilled shelves of some Asda outlets, plus a number of Sainsbury’s and Co-op stores. "There are also other promising moves in the pipeline, which we can’t talk about yet," says a company spokesperson.
Meanwhile for The Pie Company business partners, James Bradley and Justin Clarke, it is not the end of the line. Although the business closed after only a few months of trading, with the owners blaming high rents and business rates, as well as reduced demand, a new door has opened. They now plan to enter the wholesale market, selling their wares to takeaways and restaurants.
The pair opened The Pie Company store only last April, after scouting out traditional pie-and-mash shops in the Wigan area, to decide what they should do with their own pies. Former Royal Air Force chef Bradley says: "We’ve had to wind up the firm because it just wasn’t working. The customers were good, and so were the pies, but rates and rents were too high. But we’re now looking to run a wholesale operation, selling to shops and takeaways and concentrating more on quality. We now have a bit of insight into running a business, and will use this experience."
It’s not just pie companies that experienced a food trading downturn throughout the summer months in Leicester, where some of the highest temperatures in the country were recorded. Two of the city’s leading restaurants, the Opera House and the award-winning Entropy, closed in July, while long-established ’deli’, Stones, also went under.
For Stones, which is being renamed and has been bought out of administration, the future means a £100,000 revamp and, as Bradley and Clarke hope for in their new venture, brighter days ahead - just not too much sunshine! n